×

‘Billions’ Season 3 Hums Behind the Scenes as Characters Grapple With Political ‘Earthquake’

When “Billions” begins its third season tonight on Showtime, viewers will find Chuck Rhoades, Bobby Axelrod and the rest of the gang digging out from the upheaval inflicted by Rhoades’ machinations at the end of season two.

The characters return to an unsettled environment, but the show set in the world of Wall Street is running like a finely tuned sports car in the view of showrunners Brian Koppelman and David Levien, who created “Billions” with Andrew Ross Sorkin. “Billions” has hit the season-three sweet spot that comes after a series proves itself in season one, and then proves in its sophomore year that season one was no fluke.

“The characters have moved now from any kind of archetypal place to a much more real place,” Levien told Variety. “As we get to know the actors better it becomes that much more real.”

The “Billions” ensemble is an unusually brainy bunch, adds Koppelman. “These actors are all super high-IQ people. They can handle anything that (the writers) throw at them. They allow us to fully imagine these characters in a way that as a creator is an extraordinary gift.” 

The strengths, flaws, foibles and yearnings of the key characters played by Damian Lewis (Axelrod), Paul Giamatti (Rhoades), Maggie Siff (Wendy Rhoades) and Malin Akerman (Lara Axelrod) are also established enough that there’s not as much track to lay to make the storylines work.

“On the day our actors show up to work they just are these characters,” Koppleman says. “There’s very little separation in our minds between the actors and the characters. We’re being completely true to who these characters are now, so their actions make sense even though the circumstances have changed and the world has shifted. The pressures on Chuck and Axe are different.”

At the close of season two, Chuck Rhoades, the zealous U.S. attorney in New York who polices Wall Street, has orchestrated an elaborate sting that finally snares his long-sought prey — hedge fund kingpin Axelrod — but at great cost to the Rhoades clan, and perhaps to his own ambition to become governor of the Empire State.

The shift in tone and tactics at the Justice Department in the real world is reflected in the new season even if the name “Trump” itself is not uttered once during the season. (Koppelman hasn’t been shy about expressing via social media his outrage at the current administration.)

Veteran actor Clancy Brown (“The Shawshank Redemption”) joins “Billions” this season as bare-knuckles political brawler from Texas, Waylon “Jock” Jeffcoat, who becomes the new U.S. Attorney General. He seems destined to keep his cowboy boots planted on Rhoades’ neck.

“We do reflect that there’s been a change in the administration,” Levien says. “It changes the business climate and the prospects for big business and rich billionaires. Everybody’s facing the reckoning of who’s going to be the chosen ones and who’s going to go down.”

As ever, an eclectic mix of music is integral to telling the “Billions” story. The season opener offers a megaphone for distinctive tunes from two emerging singer-songwriters, Garrett T. Capps and Lucy Dacus, with a little old-school New York punk from the Dictators thrown in for good measure.

“The songs are huge keys to understanding what’s going on in the show,” Koppelman said. “There’s been an earthquake of sorts in our world, as is the case in the real world. When there’s a seismic event, alliances shift and loyalties are tested. Our show picks up with our characters in world that is now facing those circumstances.”

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • Roma Cinematography

    'Mission: Impossible - Fallout' and 'Roma' Win LMGI Awards for Motion Pictures

    Two major 2018 releases – actioner “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” and critics’ darling “Roma” – were honored for film location work by the Location Managers Guild International at a ceremony this evening at the Eli & Edythe Broad Stage in Santa Monica. The 6th Annual LMGI Awards also recognized “Chernobyl” and “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” [...]

  • Viacom Channels Grab 'Seinfeld' Cable Rerun

    Viacom Channels Grab 'Seinfeld' Cable Rerun Rights

    Viacom has sealed a deal with Sony Pictures Television for the cable rights to “Seinfeld” starting in October 2021. The deal comes on the heels of a blockbuster new deal between Sony and Netflix for the streaming rights to the beloved NBC sitcom that also begins in 2021. “Seinfeld” reruns have been a staple of [...]

  • Soho House

    Soho House Lands In Downtown Los Angeles

    Warner Music, Spotify and Lyft are poised to welcome a new neighbor to downtown Los Angeles’ Arts District with Soho Warehouse, the third California outpost of the Hollywood-loved members-only club — and the largest North American opening to date. Hot on the heels of the Soho House Hong Kong debut earlier this summer, the private [...]

  • Elite Season 2

    San Sebastian: Spain’s SVOD Players Debate Competition, Brand, Talent

    SAN SEBASTIAN  — Executives from HBO, Netflix, Amazon and Movistar+ and “Elite” co-creator Darío Madrona took to the stage to field questions on the Global Impact of Spanish Series. Here, briefly, are five takeaways: 1.Spain First “La Casa de Papel” was watched by 34,355,956 Netflix accounts over its first seven days,  after a July 19 [...]

  • Samsung Makes Bid to Keep Viewers

    Samsung Makes Bid to Keep Viewers From Skipping Fox Ad Breaks

    Fox is hoping to knit together the seconds-long divide between a TV program and the commercials that support it. During ad breaks for a few football broadcasts, tomorrow’s run of the Emmys and Wednesday’s season premiere of “The Masked Singer,” the network will kick off ad sessions with special show promos that display artistic renderings [...]

  • Patria

    HBO Europe Unveils ‘Patria’ Footage to Captive San Sebastian Audience

    SAN SEBASTIAN — Amid large expectation, HBO Europe has revealed first footage giving a first sense of tone and pace of its Spanish original series “Patria.” A packed-to-overflowing press conference on Saturday morning at the San Sebastian Festival can be read as one sign of the potential popularity of the eight-part series. The panel sneak-peek [...]

  • Topic Studios

    Layoffs Hit Topic Studios as TV Division Relocates to West Coast (EXCLUSIVE)

    A small round of layoffs has hit Topic Studios this week in the television division, insiders familiar with the company told Variety. One of the insiders said three executives at the New York-based producer and distributor are out: senior vice president of scripted programming and Viacom alum Lisa Leingang, vice president of development Mona Panchal [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content